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'Veterans of the First World War and Crime in Interwar Scotland'

University of Stirling

Cameron McKay - I am a second year PhD student at the University of Stirling, where I also obtained my undergraduate and master’s degrees. My current research concerns First World War veterans and crime in Scotland. This project examines patterns of crime after the war as well as the experiences of veterans who became involved in criminality. Recently my article ‘In Glasgow we made bombs.’ The Role of Irish-Scots in the Easter Rising’ has been accepted for publication in the journal of the Scottish Labour History Society, and will appear in their next edition.

In stark contrast to Continental Europe Britain’s experience of demobilisation is generally thought to have passed without incident. Advocates of this view have drawn attention to the fact that while France, Germany and Italy all saw significant rises in post-war crime, in England and Wales most categories of offence dropped below pre-war levels after 1920. Marwick’s explanation that the Ireland acted as a ‘pressure valve’ for post-war violence, has been adopted by later historians, such as Emsley and Lawrence, to explain the absence of a post-war crime wave in Britain. Studies regarding this phenomenon have however ignored Scotland’s experience of post-war crime. Archer and Gartner’s cross-national study on violent crime found that Scotland saw a 50 per cent increase in homicide after the First World War. Only Finland, Germany and Italy saw higher rises, all three of which were subject to violent revolutions and counter-revolutions. It is harder however to account for the rise in violent crime that took place in Scotland. Between 1918 and 1931 the prison commissioners interviewed 342 male prisoners; around half of which had served in the First World War. Analysis of the interviews has revealed that veterans were more likely to have been convicted of a crime involving alcohol or violence. In particular veterans appear to have shown a higher incidence domestic violence compared to prisoners who did not serve. This paper will discuss the reasons why veterans may have been more disposed towards criminality, as well as highlighting incidents of disorder involving Scottish veterans.